Roman Catholic Pope Francis was hailed for his courage in challenging the United States Congress on a range of «leftwing» issues. The pontiff can take some credit for raising issues of social justice, reducing poverty and homelessness, averting deleterious environmental impacts, and calling for more humane immigration policies. But there was a flagrant omission in his address to the American lawmakers, as there was in his earlier audience with President Barack Obama. Where was his forthright condemnation of Washington’s rampant war-making and sponsorship of global terrorism?
The Bishop of Rome made no mention of US war-making and conflict. Silence is tacit acceptance, or even complicity. And when one of the world’s foremost religious leaders keeps silent, that is as good as a blessing for the warmongers.
Washington is, by far, the world’s greatest war-maker, having conducted wars, subversions, coups, covert insurgency and counterinsurgency operations in almost every year over the seven decades since the end of the Second World War, as documented by American historian William Blum.
Yet Pope Francis – Argentinian-born and from a continent that has been ravaged by Washington state-sponsored violence – did not speak truth to power while addressing the US Capitol. If Francis had excoriated the US rulers for their habitual warmongering, he may not have received applause and standing ovations, but the Pope would have at least spoken the truth at a critical juncture.
Pope Francis seemingly opted for discretion as being the better part of valour. A less charitable view is that the leader of the Catholic Church lacked the courage to speak out in defence of millions of victims of US-sponsored wars. He told the chamber of the House: «Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion».
But it’s not enough to merely describe «a place of violent conflict». What about specifying the causes of conflict such as regime change or coveting natural resources? What about actually citing the governments that are responsible for unleashing, orchestrating and fuelling violence? It’s not as if there is no evidence. Far from it, the evidence of criminality is replete.
This is where the spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, shows more mettle that the Catholic Pope. In recent days, Ayatollah Khamenei addressed Muslims making the annual Hajj pilgrimage by condemning the United States as the main «source of war, bloodshed and devastation in the world».
This is not a subjective matter of one «political perspective» at variance with another. It is an objective factual reality. The US government is the primary source of war and violence in the world over many decades, as the reference above to William Blum attests.
Currently, the US is primarily complicit in sponsoring a covert war in Syria, along with a coterie of allies and client regimes. Given Washington’s primacy as the most powerful political entity, it consequently bears the most responsibility for the devastation in Syria. Up to 12 million people have been made homeless in a four-year conflict, which has resulted in some 250,000 deaths.
Elsewhere, in the past week, more than 230 civilians have been massacred in Yemen by the foreign military coalition headed up and armed by Washington. The fighter jets and bombs dropped on Yemen by Saudi pilots and other Arab nationals are supplied and coordinated by the American military. Washington has also provided the political and diplomatic cover for the six-month-long slaughter in that country. Make no mistake, this is a US-sponsored criminal war on the people of Yemen. Whole families have been massacred in residential homes deliberately targeted by American warplanes. Hospitals, aid convoys, schools, markets, water and power utilities have all been bombed, putting 80 per cent of Yemen’s 24 million population in dire humanitarian plight. Only three days before the Pope addressed the US Congress, 30 civilians were reported killed by American-led coalition air strikes in the provinces of Hajjah and Ibb.
In his address to Congress, Pope Francis did partially condemn the international arms trade. But his words were vague and scarcely directed at the US in particular, as they should have been.
Here is what the Pope said: «Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimise and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade».
Pope Francis’ point would have been more powerful and closer to the truth if he had specified the US as the world’s biggest arms supplier whose top clients include the dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies who together are committing heinous war crimes in Yemen – at the very same time that he was speaking to Congress. Francis should have condemned the US government for its criminality in no uncertain terms. Yemen provides the irrefutable, horrendous facts to support such a condemnation.
The Pope missed a crucial opportunity to confront corrupt power. His vacuity only serves to obscure the bloodied hands of the perpetrator.
Following his speech on Capitol Hill, the New York Times reported thus: «Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, challenged Congress, and by extension the mightiest nation in the world, on Thursday to break out of its cycle of paralysis and use its power to heal the ‘open wounds’of a planet torn by hatred, greed, poverty and pollution».
So, according to the top US media outlet, the Pope is urging Washington to «heal the world». In other words, the Pontiff ends up reinforcing arrogant American «exceptionalism» as a delusion that the nation is a force for good, instead of being a rampant source of violence across the globe.
Pope Francis may be a breath of fresh air compared with his predecessors from his humble embrace of the poor and socially marginalised.
But he still retains the stench of sycophancy towards the world’s biggest criminal state-sponsor of war and terrorism. God Bless America indeed.